It is Helsinki Day, and so naturally I am in Finland. There is music all round me, and everywhere I look I can see people in strange costumes doing remarkably odd things. Riho has taken off to explore a large, crazily over-priced bookshop, and I am wandering the slightly manic streets of Helsinki on my own, with the usual expression of awe on my little new-traveller face. Life is good.
All of this is overshadowed, of course, by the fact that I really, really need to pee.
I head for the nearest building, which may or may not be a bus station. Along the way, I am stopped by several survey-takers, attacked by a seagull, and almost killed at the even-scarier-than-Estonian-roads pedestrian crossing. By the time I find myself wandering dazedly through the maybe-bus station, I am understandably a little on edge.
And now I cannot find the toilets. At first, I determinedly followed a sign for the elevator (a mistake I also made in Tallinn. The picture of the little man and woman confused me until Riho gently pointed out that they were in a box representing the lift, with up and down arrows in case there was any doubt remaining). When I do actually find the WC sign after a lengthy trek around the entire building, I walk past the toilets several times, owing to the fact that they look like the entrance to some kind of lab for scientific research, although this would be a little out of place in a bus station, if that is in fact where I am. Huge steel doors with flashing lights and scary-looking signs. Tentatively, I go forward and try to open a door. It doesn’t open. Someone comes out of another one, and I run to catch the door before it closes, but it whizzes shut in exactly the way you might expect it to, if it was a high-security entrance to the afore-mentioned lab for top-secret scientific experiments. Perhaps on aliens or similar. Sadly, and with my bladder beginning to cause me considerable discomfort, I retreat to the other end of the corridor. I have no idea how to get into the toilets.
Lingering in a most suspicious manner, I watch as someone else approaches the Scary Doors. She does something to the door, and a digital countdown shows on the display. She pulls the handle, and the door opens as if by magic.
Money! It wants money! I fumble desperately for money. Joy and jubilation, there is a €1 coin in my pocket. Excitedly, I race to a door and insert the coin into the slot. It spits it back out and beeps at me in what I can only imagine is an angry tone. It does not want money after all. Somebody passes by and says something that I have no hope of understanding. I look blankly at him and he points at the lights above the door. They are very pretty. I nod in acknowledgement of this and then realise that the lights mean there’s someone in there. D’oh. I move to the next door and insert my trusty €1 into the slot. It spits it back out, and doesn’t even bother to beep at me.The toilets hate me.
Woe is me.
I begin to walk dejectedly away from the toilets, but a woman who looks like my mum has been observing me with an amused but sympathetic expression on her face. She says something, I shrug helplessly, she realises my plight (surrounded, as I am, by signs in Finnish) and gently beckons me to a machine on the wall. I cannot read the instructions. In a gentle, motherly way, she takes my coin and puts it into the machine, which does some whirring and spits out a little token. She gives it to me and points at the doors, with a smile. I want to hug her, but settle for a sheepish ‘thank you’ with an exaggerated in-case-you-don’t-understand nod instead.
Nervously, palms sweating, I put my token into the door slot. A digital countdown begins on the display, and the door makes a much friendlier noise. I think it is pleased with me. I try the handle and have to stop myself from doing a full-on celebratory happy dance when it opens.
I could quite easily write a Part Two: How I eventually got out of the toilet cubicle, but there are some things about my travel experiences that I’d really rather forget.